Superadditivity vs. Subadditivity: How Senses and Expectations Shape Flavor

By John H. Cox
FEMA Executive Director

We often write about how flavor is the product of all five senses working together.  A recent Food Navigator article features Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University’s discussion about the phenomena of superadditivity and subadditivity when it comes to flavor.

Superadditivity is when the five senses work together to create a more enjoyable flavor.  This is why many people prefer to eat ice cream in a cone rather than a cup.  While they might enjoy a scoop just fine in a cup, the tactile experience of holding a cone increases our enjoyment of the ice cream’s flavor.

In contrast, subadditivity occurs when the senses work with each other to create a flavor that is less enjoyable.

Take cheese, for instance.  Some types of cheese just don’t smell that great despite how they might taste.  One of the more popular cheeses where subadditivity takes effect is Muenster.  This pale cheese, known for its orange rind, is enjoyed by many, but its smell sometimes ruins the overall flavor for some of us.

Both super- and subadditivity have a lot to do with expectation.  Spence uses packaging color to illustrate the relationship between expectation and flavor.  If you have two bags, one colorful and one dull, with the same candy inside, you are more likely to enjoy the flavor of the candy in the colorful bag because you expect it to taste good based on what you see.

So we ask you, what do you think about superadditivity and subadditivity when it comes to flavor?  Do you agree that expectations affect flavor?  Share your thoughts with us below!

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) was founded in 1909 and is the national association of the U.S. flavor industry.  FEMA’s membership is comprised of flavor manufacturers, flavor users, flavor ingredient suppliers, and others with an interest in the U.S. flavor industry.  The association is committed to ensuring a safe supply of flavor ingredients used in foods and beverages enjoyed by billions of men, women, and children around the world.

One thought on “Superadditivity vs. Subadditivity: How Senses and Expectations Shape Flavor

  1. Yes it is perfectly right. I had read a paper that even a color of the plate in which we eat brings an impact on the taster.

    The color if the drink too , as a colored orange juice is much preferred than a colorless (in case of flavor addition) when compared to the dull colored orange drink with the same intensity of flavor dosage.

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